Posts Tagged ‘Point of View’

All That and More

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

In casual situations, I think in terms of linked clichés. When I’m talking with my neighbors, my dentist, and my family, clichés spill from my mouth like water over a dam.

As a professional writer, I spend hours and considerable effort to compose fresh narrative, vivid descriptions, and snappy dialog. I strive to use concrete nouns and active verbs, but it’s not something that comes naturally. I admire those authors who think clearly, write quickly, and speak as elegantly as they write.

I’m just not one of them.

Recently, I wrote a rather firm, but professional email to a business group of which I’m a member. Mulling their reactions in my head, I found myself getting more than a little worked up, wondering if the organization would rue the day they had elected me to their Board of Directors. Although I would never throw in the towel, leaving the group in the lurch, to change horses in mid-stream, I toyed with the idea of finding greener pastures.

Teryl's grandparents

For me, thinking in clichés is as easy as falling off a log. That’s probably why I enjoy writing the Harmony Hills Mystery series. The characters are the same age I remember my grandparents were when I was growing up. It’s not fair to generalize, and I hardly ever do it, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but people of my grandparents’ generation talked in clichés. At least that’s how I remember it.

Reasonable people might disagree with me, saying my assessment is a lot of hogwash, a product of muddled thinking. They might say I’m full of baloney, barking up the wrong tree, and I don’t know what in the world I’m talking about.

But, I digress. I’m putting the cart before the horse and it’s time I get my ducks in a row to get on with it. I need to explain myself.

Ducks in a row

I had a blast writing STILL KICKIN’, the first novel in my Harmony Hills Mystery series. To have any hope of understanding why I was as happy as a pig in mud, I need to bring you up to speed on the plot of the story.

When Marvin Stemple, the richest man at the Harmony Hills Retirement Village dies in his penthouse apartment, the police rule the death accidental. Resident Kay Powers suspects murder and sets out to dig up the evidence to reopen the case.

That blurb is called a log line in the business. An elevator pitch. My ten-second spiel. It’s quick. Concise. Meant to sound professional. Supposed to sell books. Get the job done. Bring home the bacon.

But it’s nowhere near, not even in the ballpark, of the pitch I really wanted to write for the back cover of the book. What I wanted to say, my editor had been hard-pressed to print. In fact, if truth be told, she flatly refused. Not even when I begged her pretty please with sugar on top. She wouldn’t buy it, not for all the tea in China.

My publisher said we’d get hauled into court. Thrown in the slammer. For something, that in my humble opinion is no big deal. But lawyers have a tendency to make mountains out of molehills. And it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the big boys upstairs, in their ivory tower. Who are the powers that be? The head honchos of network television, of course.

On the back cover, would if I could, I’d write:

Still Kickin’—The Golden Girls become Charlie’s Angels to solve a murder in an old folks’ home in Omaha, Nebraska.

Did I mention the story takes place in the Heartland of America? The Nation’s Bread Basket. Right in the middle of the Bible belt. Where people, one generation removed from the farm, like to kick back and settle down, in front of a roaring fire, on a cold winter’s night, to read a tall tale, set in their own back yard. A story right up their alley. In amber waves of grain.

Happy as a pig in mud

Want to know the best part? The thing that tripped my trigger? Put me in seventh heaven? I wrote the entire book, the whole shebang, the kit and caboodle, in the first person point of view. Yours truly got to crawl into the head – the heart and soul—of my heroine, Kay Powers.

Kay is a dream come true. Everything rolled up into one neat package. Jack of all trades. Leader of the pack. Amateur sleuth. Loving sister. The best friend you could ever have. She has never met a stranger. She’s stubborn as a mule, smart as a whip, honest as the day is long. A good egg, with a heart of gold. She wouldn’t take any wooden nickels. As my father used to say, she’s been around the pump handle a few times.

Kay has celebrated seventy-one birthdays, but doesn’t look a day over sixty. That’s a lucky break since a man ten years her junior has his cap set for her. Will Kay get off the fence and jump head first into a romance with the handsome detective, John Vendetti?

One can only hope.

Ever vigilant, Kay knows in her heart of hearts that something’s not right about Marvin’s death. She smells a rat. She’s not buying what Detective Vendetti is selling. He’s got it all wrong. Marvin’s death, an accident? In a pig’s eye.

As sure as God made little green apples, someone killed Marvin Stemple. Who’s the murderer? Well, that’s the $64 question.

Now, all Kay has to do is rally the troops. Forge ahead. March up the hill with her best friends, Vita Orsi and Audrey Campbell.

Well, what I can say about those two spitfires? They weren’t born yesterday. They’re no spring chickens. In fact, Vita’s a little long in the tooth at seventy-five years old. That’s six bits, to you, son. And Audrey, she sits just shy of eighty. But she’s not one to let the parade pass her by or let grass grow under her feet. She keeps up, you know what I mean?

Nope, Vita and Audrey didn’t just fall off the cabbage truck. No-siree. They’ve been around the block. They know the score.

You can bet your bottom dollar, by hook or by crook, Kay and her friends will solve the case and save the day.

Fortunately for me, Kay frequently thinks the way I do—in clichés. Here’s her rundown of the major players in Still Kickin’:

Marvin Stemple—Sweet as honey. Dead as a doornail.

Vita Orsi—Red-hot mama. Hell on wheels.

Audrey Campbell—Going through her second childhood, but she’s right as rain, and nobody’s fool.

Detective John Vendetti—Handsome as all-get-out. Salt of the earth. Could he be Kay’s knight in shining armor?

Barbara Finnegar—Kay’s nemesis. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Too big for her britches.

Mary Dodson—Big boss of Harmony Hills. Kay can’t quite put her finger on it, but Mary’s up to something.

Marilyn—Kay’s big sis. Got the short end of the stick when Alzheimer’s cut her down in the prime of life.

Arthur Stemple—Marvin’s son. Milquetoast, hen-pecked. Or, do still waters run deep?

Donna Stemple – Marvin’s daughter-in-law. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Up to no good.

Walt Garvin—Marvin’s best friend. Not playing with a full deck. Is he the murderer’s patsy?

It’s been a barrel of laughs writing this blog. Jotting down whatever popped into my head. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Check out this book for more idioms

I can’t wait for you to read about Kay’s adventures. Cross my heart and hope to die, the book isn’t filled with clichés. I cleaned up my act, kept my nose to the grindstone to write a fun mystery. I did take some poetic license to sprinkle in a few endangered phrases—but only when I was camped out in Kay’s head.

Stay tuned. I’ll drop you a line when my book hits the shelves. See you later, alligator.

Later, Gator

From Dreams to Reality

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I am a writer.

While that has always been the case, I’ve not always freely admitted it. Over the years, I’ve met many other writers, some published and several pre-published, who hesitate to confess their passion or embrace their talent. And it’s a shame. Because, like all creative people—artists, photographers, dancers, singers, actors—we can deny our ambitions, but we can’t survive without practicing our obsession. So, I’ll say it again; I am a writer.

I wrote stories in my head even before I knew how to put them on paper. One of my favorite activities was to plot my dreams before falling asleep at night.

After I snuggled into bed, and my mother had turned out the light, my four-year-old self would conjure up the fantasy du jour. I started my dream before I fell asleep, hopefully to continue the adventure once slumber overtook my conscious mind.

Teryl, Nancy, and Teryl's brother, Tim

I wrote and rewrote one dream story every night for a season—like reruns of a favorite television program. The tale always began the same. With head on the pillow and my eyes closed tightly, I pictured myself passing through a hole in the retaining wall belonging to my best friend, Nancy Wilhelm. She lived across the street and we played together every day. On sunny afternoons, we pumped our legs skyward on the homemade rope swing tied to a cottonwood tree branch at the edge of a suburban cornfield. If we felt brave, at the apex, we launched ourselves from the safety of the wooden seat to sail through the air and land in the cool, black dirt below. When it rained, we moved indoors to play school, taking turns being the teacher.

Those afternoons in Nancy’s home introduced me to the fact that houses not only have different families living in them, but different textures and smells, too. I coveted her aluminum Christmas tree. It had a light with a revolving wheel, covered with multi-colored cellophane. At night, through their gigantic picture window, I watched the silver needles glow, turning from pink, to purple, and then blue.

The pink/purple/blue aluminum Christmas tree

Nancy’s family used different hand soap, too, that smelled flowery and didn’t have pumice beads in it like ours did. But the best thing—her mother always served us chocolate, not plain milk, for a snack.

Back to the dream—I floated through the hole in Nancy’s wall. I never worried about impossibilities. I simply adjusted my size to fit the four-inch space of the concrete block.

Did I mention I’d flown through the hole? No walking through passageways in my dreams. That was much too boring and insufferably slow, since my destination was Deepest, Darkest Africa. I still recall the bass voice announcing I’d arrived in “Deepest. Darkest. Africa.”

My dream jungle was as lush as any I’d seen in the Tarzan movies, except the leaves were vivid green instead of black and white. I climbed the closest vine to sit on the highest branch in the canopy. My first duty was to feed a bag of peanuts to the brightly-colored toucan on my left and the chimpanzee on my right.

After that, I fell into a sound sleep and the next morning I couldn’t remember how the story had played out. I suspect, I had numerous, heroic adventures, running with the cheetahs and saving naïve English hunters on safari as they tramped, unaware of danger, along the dense jungle floor.

Pierre-Esprit_Radisson

Later, I had the great fortune to be in the sixth-grade class of Mrs. Carol Loucks. She understood the creative spirit, as she was a consummate musician and singer. For a spring project, she directed and staged our class production of Brigadoon. What I enjoyed most in her class was the weekly writing assignment.

On Monday, Mrs. Loucks announced the theme of the week’s composition, due on Friday morning. She cleverly tied the theme to a current event or a topic we were discussing in our studies.

One week, we had to write a story about the French explorers we were studying in Early American History. I sat baffled by how to work Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard des Groseilliers of the Hudson Bay Company into a compelling plot. I turned to my mother for help. Frances Myers was my first muse, my constant collaborator, and a terrific poet and writer in her own right.

My mother suggested a different perspective. Why not stage the story in a modern-day museum and construct a conversation between two exhibits side by side in a display case? Why not write dialog between the worn leather shoe of French Explorer Radisson and the shiny new boot of Astronaut John Glenn? The inanimate objects could share their discoveries in a fun way with each other and the reader.

Point of View – it was the first of many lessons my mother, my mentor taught me about writing. It’s easy to see the roots of my passion.

Now, when asked, I clearly proclaim my joy and my profession.

I AM A WRITER.

Watch for the release of my next book, Still Kickin’–A Harmony Hills Mystery. Due out in March 2012.